Auburn’s coach says he wasn’t hired for his record

This Oct. 16, 2010, file photo shows Auburn football coach Gene Chizik during the first half of a game against Arkansas in Auburn, Ala. Chizik says he was hired for his reputation, not his coaching record.

This Oct. 16, 2010, file photo shows Auburn football coach Gene Chizik during the first half of a game against Arkansas in Auburn, Ala. Chizik says he was hired for his reputation, not his coaching record. Photo by The Associated Press.

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Gene Chizik said Auburn hired him partly because of his hard-earned reputation for integrity, and he’s standing by that.

“I will say this: I got hired for this job not for my headcoaching record,” Chizik told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “I got hired for this job because of a reputation that I’ve built over 20-something years, wherever I’ve been. My word is what it is. Integrity is a huge part of what I believe in and who I am. I’m very confident in that.”

That confidence doesn’t seem to have been fazed amid the recruiting allegations swirling around star quarterback Cam Newton.

“You can’t control outside opinions,” Chizik said. “But I can assure you our methods of operations haven’t changed” since taking over the program nearly two years ago.

The second-ranked Tigers and Newton have taken a series of public relations hits during the NCAA investigation into the Heisman hopeful’s recruitment. No details have emerged implicating Auburn in any wrongdoing, but Mississippi State boosters have said Newton’s father, Cecil, sought money in exchange for the quarterback’s commitment to that school.

None of those potential distractions have slowed either Chizik, Newton or the Tigers, who have secured a spot in the SEC championship game.

Chizik continues to quietly go about his business, declining to comment on the allegations and focusing on the regular-season finale Nov. 26 at No. 10 Alabama.

After the Iron Bowl showdown with the Crimson Tide, Auburn will face No. 17 South Carolina in the SEC title game with a shot at the national championship potentially on the line for the Tigers.

It’s an impressive rise, considering his hire two years ago was not a popular move.

Chizik was hired after two years — and five wins — as head coach at Iowa State. Former Auburn basketball standout and NBA analyst Charles Barkley publicly criticized the university for not hiring Turner Gill, now at Kansas. Athletic director Jay Jacobs was heckled when he arrived at the Auburn airport after the hiring.

But Chizik had built his reputation as a longtime assistant, including successful stints as the defensive coordinator at both Texas and Auburn. And two years later, he has led the Tigers to a 19-5 record, a reversal of his Iowa State mark — including 11-0 this year.

“Gene’s a great character guy,” former Auburn coach Pat Dye said. “He’s got a trail, and I think you’ll find the same thing at every spot.”

If Chizik is concerned his reputation could take a significant hit if the NCAA rules Auburn has been playing an ineligible player, he’s not showing it.

He said he has “no idea” if there could be a resolution to the Newton recruiting questions before the Iron Bowl. Either way, it’s business as usual for Chizik.

“The man has not changed one bit since he’s gotten here,” offensive tackle Lee Ziemba Ziemba said. “If we were 3-8 right now, I don’t think he’d change at all. He’s a rock. He’s a rock that we can lean on and trust and that’s where the chemistry like he talks about starts.

“It starts with him.”

For his part, Chizik said he and his coaching staff’s philosophy is “try to do it the same all the time.” He’s not inclined to say “I told you so” to anyone critical of his hiring.

“I don’t live my life that way,” he said. “I have an allegiance to the people that have an allegiance to me. Look, I’ve got a job and a family. That’s what I’ve got and that’s where I spend my time. Sometimes the two bleed over into each other, a high percentage of the time.

“I do the job to the best of my ability. ... I don’t do things for any vengeance or any ‘I told you so’s.’ That’s not how we live.”

That steadfast philosophy has no doubt helped Chizik deal with the latest storm.

When the initial reports surfaced out of Mississippi State, he said he wanted to make it “very loud and very clear” that Newton was eligible.

Chizik and Auburn officials stopped answering questions about Newton last week, after an emotional defense of Newton after public reports the quarterback had been accused of academic cheating three times while at Florida.

During this open week, fans continue celebrating the Tigers’ first SEC West title since 2004 while wondering if some — or all — of the wins might be vacated if the NCAA rules Newton was not eligible.

Chizik, who spent a rare Sunday evening at home watching “Marmaduke” with his wife and three kids after a team dinner, has a message to for those fans:

“I continue to want them to love Auburn football, love Auburn and love Auburn University.”

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